Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Don't Dream It; Be It

Last month, I made the decision to become a full-time, independent writer. Now, this was not as harrowing a decision as the one I made many years ago to leave the chemistry lab to become a writer at a non-profit. After all, it is a lot easier to go back to writing for a paycheck than it is to reenter scientific work after stepping away. And I have a lot of evidence now that people will pay me for putting words on paper.

Nevertheless, my move is not without some risk (and the stress of the transition has put me into physical therapy). The spontaneous smiles are accompanied by moments of doubt. Following your passion is good advice, but that path doesn't lead you into a land of rainbows and unicorns. How, then, does one take the advice of Dr. Frank-N-Furter? Don't be it; dream it?
  • Know what you want. For me, a day that mixes fiction and nonfiction, that includes both writing and rewriting, that allows me to complete projects that never had enough time, is almost enough. I just have to enough money to pay most of the bills.
  • Believe you can do it. Yes, every creative person has doubts, but can you construct a list of capabilities and accomplishments that makes the case that you are ready to take a leap? I can't prove that I will write bestselling novels, but I can provide a strong case that I can create prose people will pay for. Think in terms of putting together a portfolio for investors. Could you show the clippings, contracts, credits and samples that would make a case for yourself?
  • Have a realistic timeframe. How long do you expect to wait until you see evidence of success? Until you achieve specific goals, such as getting an agent, making as much money as you spend? Getting contracts that carry you into the future? Many creative people underestimate how long they need to achieve their goals, and that builds disappointment and anxiety. Make you best guess for each goal, and add in (50%) extra time.
  • Stay away from doubters. Bradbury was big on this. Over and over again, he told writers to cut loose any friends and associates who sowed seeds of doubt or flat out told them they couldn't do it. He was on to something. Some people have a perverse need to crush dreams. And their continuous streams of advice will echo in your mind when your own doubts rise up. It is especially important that the people you are closest to can support your choice in at least a limited way (say, for the length of your timeframe).
What if you fail? For some people, this can be devastating. It need not be, if have supporters around you. Small and even large failures do not need to stop you. They do not need to kill your dream. But they may cause you to modify your dream. If you learn your lessons along the way, you may even end up with dreams that are more satisfying to you. You need to be the right dream, not an imaginary dream. So make the mid-course correction and carry on.


  1. This is powerful encouragement. I like the practical side of believing in yourself that you write about--gathering the evidence to support your belief.

  2. Thanks, Chura. I think there is incredible pressure to follow a dream constructed by society or those in our circles. It is important to find tools to fight back and claim your dreams.